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CLEVELAND (WJW) – To combat a nationwide nursing shortage, University Hospitals is making changes about who will be caring for patients at their bedside.

To address an “urgent staffing shortage,” the hospital will transition some of its nursing staff in non-patient care roles to bedside care indefinitely.

“We are specifically engaging members of our nursing community who currently serve in non-bedside care roles to train and help at the bedside,” said George Stamatis, a hospital spokesperson, in a written statement. “The nurses will undergo a focused education session prior to their assignments. The demands on our health system are great, and participation in Helping Hands Phase 3 is necessary and mandatory.”

Participation is for an indefinite period of time, according to the hospital, as it works to solve the shortage.

The issue is becoming widespread as the health care industry works to battle the pandemic while dealing with a nursing shortage.

“It is worse than it has ever been,” said Peter Van Runkle, the Executive Director of the Ohio Health Care Association. “People are going to go without service is basically what it boils down to.”

The organization represents about 1,200 members who serve an estimated 75,000 patients primarily in assisted living, skilled nursing, hospice and home care settings.

Van Runkle said the problem is already impacting patient care with some health facilities turning to outside agencies that provide temporary nursing assistance at a higher price than before, creating an additional financial burden.

“That use of agency staff has grown at least, I would say, double if not more,” he said. “I’ve heard the number is like $40 or $50 an hour for an STNA [State Tested Nursing Assistant] who would normally make, let’s say, $12 to $15, maybe a little bit more as an employee.”

He added the stress of COVID, combined with an already pre-existing staffing issue, created a true crisis in patient care.

“People can’t go home from skilled nursing because they don’t have home health,” said Van Runkle.  “They can’t go into a skilled nursing facility and they end up staying in a hospital longer because the skilled nursing facilities don’t have enough staff.”

Details surrounding a federal COVID vaccine requirement for nursing home employees could be announced by the end of the month.

Van Runkle fears it could potentially add to the nursing shortage if employees decide to leave due to the mandate, making an already delicate situation worse.

“It’s almost a humanitarian crisis, not having enough staff to take care of people… It’s really hard to imagine the end result,” said Van Runkle.

A Cleveland Clinic spokesperson said the hospital is experiencing staffing challenges for nursing and other positions and it is continuously evaluating its workforce to find solutions to meet caregiver needs.

The Ohio Nurses Association did not return requests for comment.